Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Politics & Philanthropy don't mix

I got a direct mail piece from Oxfam USA last week. Because my wife and I have previously given to a variety of standard causes (e.g. CARE) and not-so-standard causes (e.g. Family at Home Network, the monks of Mepkin Abbey), we tend to wind up on everyone's solicitation list, especially for the year-end holiday appeals.

Many such appeals go straight in the trash, but Oxfam got a second look because it featured prominently in a philosophy lecture I've given several times over the years, about the nature of moral imperatives. I prep the students with a book review from The New Yorker, which poses a classic moral conundrum: if you see a child drowning in a wading pool, and you do nothing to stop it, you would be morally culpable in her death, yes? But you could just as easily save a life by giving some money to Oxfam . . . and yet you haven't. Shouldn't that make you equally morally culpable? The book review discusses some attempts to answer the question, but my point with the lecture is to make it as personal as possible for the audience: "I'm not talking about, 'Why don't people give to Oxfam?' I'm asking, 'Why haven't you given to Oxfam?' Because I'm also asking myself, 'Why haven't I given to Oxfam?' "

So, lo and behold, after invoking their name in a few lectures, I got an actual appeal from Oxfam last year. "It must be a sign," I thought. I was prepared to give them some money. But then I started reading the brochure, and what I read was a typical liberal-minded rant against the War on Terror. Somehow the Oxfam development officer had gotten it in his head that outrage over our recent wars would propel people to greater generosity. I didn't given them any money. It wasn't that I necessarily disagreed with them about the war; what offended me was the thoughtless assumption that anyone who is kind and generous must be a liberal.

(Side-note: even Law and Order has noticed this "kindness=liberal" assumption. Detective Munch asks his partner Fin (played by Ice-T), "Surely you have some dark personal secret your hiding." Fin replies, "Yeah. I'm a Republican." )

This year, I got almost the identical mailpiece from Oxfam. This time, the politics were gone. If anything, they had refocused on a conservative-minded take on their work: "This isn't a hand-out. We help the poor help themselves." Especially in light of the recent research that shows that conservatives give more to charity than their liberal counterparts (which I wrote about earlier), I found this switch remarkable. It makes me wonder if they actually have two different letters going out, and someone had set the conservative flag to "No" on my record by mistake last year.

In any case, I gave them some money. Dollar votes, baby.



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